With two new members in Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha, the newly-expanded WCHA will be as competitive as ever. This season, the WCHA features the most NHL prospects of any of the five conferences with 78 players having already been drafted.
The 78 NHL prospects represent ten of the 12 conference teams. The lone WCHA teams without a prospect on their roster are Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech. Minnesota leads all WCHA schools (and the nation) with 19 prospects, followed by North Dakota with 16 and St. Cloud State with 11. Below is a closer look at each member school. All noted start dates are for non-exhibition, regular season games.
University of North Dakota
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 16
The defending Broadmoor Cup Champions will look to successfully defend their crown when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 facing off against WCHA foe Alaska-Anchorage in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage.
As good as the Fighting Sioux were last season they look to be even better this season. And they are poised to make a serious run for the National Championship as well.
The best story coming out of Grand Forks to start the season is the return of redshirted senior defenseman Chay Genoway. The Morden, MB native has become the heart and soul of the Fighting Sioux and will serve as team captain. He could also become a potential candidate for this season’s Hobey Baker Award as well. Genoway appeared in nine games and posted ten points (four goals, six assists) before a concussion abruptly ended his season.
North Dakota returns last season’s team nearly intact. Only four players were lost. Forwards Chris Vande Velde (EDM) and Darcy Zajac graduated. Forward David Toews (NYI) and defenseman Corey Fienhage (BUF) left the team for the WHL. Vande Velde led North Dakota in scoring last season with 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games. Zajac finished with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 14 games. Toews appeared in 32 games, posting 15 points (four goals, 11 assists). Fienhage played in 30 games and posted a pair of assists.
Despite the losses of Vande Velde, Zajac and Toews, North Dakota will continue to be very deep upfront. One returning forward to watch is sophomore Danny Kristo (MON). The Eden Prairie, MN native enjoyed a stellar freshman season that garnered him the WCHA Rookie of the Year honor. Kristo finished third on the team with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games. He also led the Fighting Sioux with nine power play goals.
North Dakota sported one of the toughest defensive teams last season and that’s not likely to change much this season. The Fighting Sioux’s defense ranked third in the nation, allowing an average of just 2.12 goals per game. The 91 total goals allowed were the fewest of any WCHA team. And they were equally good on the penalty-kill. North Dakota ranked fourth on the man-disadvantage with an 87 percent efficiency rating. The seven shorthanded goals that the team amassed were tied for second-most in the WCHA.
The backbone of that great Fighting Sioux defense is junior netminder Brad Eidsness (BUF). No goaltender in the nation logged as many minutes as Eidsness did last season. He appeared in 41 of North Dakota’s 43 games last season logging nearly 2,400 minutes. Playing that much time didn’t hurt his numbers either. Eidsness finished his sophomore campaign with a 24-10-4 record that included three shutouts. His 24 wins tied him for second in the nation, while his 2.11 goals against average ranked eighth.
Adding depth to the stellar Fighting Sioux defense this season is highly-touted newcomer Derek Forbort. The Duluth, MN native is a first round (15th overall) selection of the Los Angeles Kings this past June, and is one of the most highly-skilled blueliners coming into the NCAA this season. Forbort is blessed with size great hands and skating ability.
University of Alaska-Anchorage
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0
Alaska-Anchorage will look to get things going in the right direction again when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting North Dakota in the Kendall Hockey Classic.
The Seawolves struggled to an eighth-place finish (tied with Minnesota State-Mankato) in the WCHA last season. Coming into this season, Alaska-Anchorage will have numerous issues to contend with in hopes of improving last season’s performance.
To start with, the Seawolves lost many impact players in the off-season. And nowhere were the losses more significant than in goal. Jon Olthuis has graduated and Bryce Christianson opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. Olthuis appeared in 26 games last season, posting an 8-15-2 record that included one shutout. Christianson appeared in 11 games, posting a record of 3-8-0.
With their top two netminders gone, Alaska-Anchorage will be very inexperienced in goal to start the season. Third-string junior Dusan Sidor returns after playing just 40 minutes last season. Competing with him for the starting job are newcomers Robby Gunderson and Chris Kamal.
The Seawolves also had many losses on the blue line as well. Stalwarts Nils Backstrom (DET), Trevor Hunt, and Jared Tuton all graduated. Lee Baldwin opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers. And to compound matters, senior Kane Lafranchise has been ruled academically ineligible for the first semester of this season.
With a very young defensive corps and inexperienced goaltending, the Seawolves will have the daunting task this season of trying to improve their dismal defensive numbers of last season. Alaska-Anchorage ranked 56th in the nation last season, giving up an average of nearly four goals per game. The 141 total goals allowed were the second most in both the WCHA and nationally. Only Michigan Tech gave up more goals.
Another area where the Seawolves struggled was on the power play, which finished tied for 53rd in the nation, clicking at an anemic 13.1 percent. The 14 shorthanded goals that they surrendered were the most in the nation.
While Alaska-Anchorage fared slightly better overall on the offensive side last season, they’ll need to generate more scoring throughout the lineup this season. One reason is the loss of two of their top four scorers in Kevin Clark and Josh Lunden, both of whom graduated. Clark led Alaska-Anchorage last season with 37 points (23 goals, 14 assists). He was also one of only two players on the Seawolves roster to play in all 36 games. Lunden, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes this summer, finished third on the team with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) playing in 25 games.
Alaska-Anchorage’s top returning scorer is senior Tommy Grant and he is well worth watching too. The North Vancouver, BC native finished second on the team last season with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 34 games. Grant has been one of Alaska-Anchorage’s most consistent players since his arrival and has blossomed into arguably their best all-around forward. He possesses great hands, good on-ice vision and has shown a knack for scoring timely goals. Grant has also drawn NHL interest, having attended the New York Rangers prospects camp this summer.
Bemidji State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 1
Bemidji State will be seeking their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament as one of the newest members of the WCHA when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 15 hosting North Dakota.
The Beavers were one of the most well-balanced teams in the nation last season. While some may attribute part of that to playing in a weaker conference, Bemidji State has already proven that they have the moxie to compete with the nation’s top teams. And with very few off-season losses, it isn’t likely to change much this season.
Bemidji State was one of just two teams (RIT was the other) last season that possessed an offense and defense that both ranked in the top ten nationally. The Beavers ranked sixth with an offense that averaged 3.46 goals per game. Their equally stellar defense ranked seventh, allowing an average of 2.35 goals per game. The 87 total goals that the team surrendered were the third fewest in the nation. Only Miami and Cornell allowed fewer goals.
The catalyst of the latter is returning junior netminder Dan Bakala. The excellent goaltending that Matt Dalton provided two seasons ago has continued with Bakala. The Calgary, AB native posted a 19-8-3 record last season that included three shutouts in 32 outings. His 2.33 goals against average ranked 12th in the nation, while his .917 save percentage tied for 14th. Bakala capped the year with a selection to the All-CHA First Team.
As good as the Beavers look on defense coming into the season; they look equally good on offense. Bemidji State returns their top five scorers and will again have very good depth.
Leading the team’s offensive attack are senior Matt Read and sophomore Jordan George. Read, the CHA Player of the Year last season, led the Beavers with 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) playing in all 37 games last season. He has led Bemidji State in scoring every year that he has been there. He also generated some NHL interest, having attended the New York Rangers prospect camp this summer. George, the CHA Rookie of the Year, enjoyed an outstanding freshman season that saw him finish second with 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games. His 34 points also tied him for sixth in the nation in rookie scoring as well.
Adding to the already superb mix up front is newcomer Radoslav Illo (ANA). The Bystrica, Slovakia native is the lone NHL prospect on the team’s roster this season. Illo comes to Bemidji State from the USHL and is noted for his speed and goal-scoring ability.
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2
Colorado College will look to build on a strong 2009-10 season when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting RPI.
The Tigers fought to a sixth-place finish in the WCHA and just missed getting into the NCAA Tournament last season. This season, they hope to remedy that.
Nowhere did Colorado College lose more of their impact players in the off-season than up front. The two most notable were Mike Testwuide (PHI) and Bill Sweatt (VAN), both of whom graduated. Testwuide was one of the nation’s best power forwards last season and was the catalyst for the Tigers offensive attack. He led the team with 21 goals and finished second in points with 31 in 36 games. After a 23-point season two years ago, Sweatt bounced back nicely last season leading Colorado College with 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 39 games.
Despite the loss of Testwuide and Sweatt, Colorado College looks to be very good up front again this season with a nice mix of returning veterans and an outstanding incoming freshman class. And the Tigers main offensive weapon that all eyes will be on is highly-touted newcomer Jaden Schwartz. The Wilcox, SK native was a first round (14th overall) selection of the St. Louis Blues this past June. Schwartz is a dynamic player that possesses tremendous hockey sense and is noted for his superb on-ice vision and precision passing ability.
Joining Schwartz as among Colorado College’s top offensive players this season is his older brother, Rylan. The elder Schwartz is the Tigers top returning scorer after posting 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 39 games last season. He capped the year with a being one of two Tigers selected to the WCHA All-Rookie Team.
The other was returning sophomore starting netminder Joe Howe. The Plymouth, MN native was one of the best rookie goaltenders in the nation last season. And as good as he was last season; he looks to be even better this season. Howe appeared in 36 contests, posting a 17-15-3 record that included three shutouts to go along with a respectable .907 save percentage and a 2.80 goals against average. And no other rookie netminder logged as many minutes as Howe did, playing just under 2,100 minutes. Of all WCHA goaltenders last season, only North Dakota’s Brad Eidsness (BUF) logged more minutes than Howe.
In addition to their strong goaltending, Colorado College is also shaping up to be very good, albeit quite young on the blue line this season as well. The Tigers did however graduate stalwarts Nate Prosser (MIN) and Kris Fredheim (VAN). Prosser, an All-WCHA Second Team selection, was quietly one of the best defensemen coming out of the WCHA last season. He led the Tigers in defenseman scoring with 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) playing in all 39 games. Fredheim finished his final year with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 36 contests.
Among those leading the Tigers defensive corps this season is junior Gabe Guentzel. The Woodbury, MN native has developed into one of Colorado College’s top rearguards, playing in all types of situations. Guentzel finished second on the team in defenseman scoring last season with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 39 games.
University of Denver
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 9
Denver will look to make their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Vermont.
The Pioneers lost key players at all positions in the off-season. And the biggest question mark coming into this season is in goal. All-America West First Team selection and WCHA Player of the Year Marc Cheverie opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Florida Panthers. Cheverie’s numbers last season were staggering. In 35 appearances last season, he posted 24-6-3 record that included six shutouts. His 2.08 goals against average ranked sixth in the nation, while his .932 save percentage and .773 winning percentage both ranked second. Cheverie’s 24 wins also tied him for second in the nation.
The daunting task of filling Cheverie’s shoes will fall on the talented tandem of sophomore Adam Murray and newcomer Sam Brittain (FLA). Murray served as Cheverie’s backup last and played quite well, despite just eight appearances and posting a 3-4-1 record. Brittain received a ton of recruiting interest before committing to Denver and he’ll bring some size, athleticism and superb puck-handling skills to the team.
“He’s a very talented young guy and has learned quite a bit in the short time that he’s been with us,” head coach George Gwozdecky said of Brittain. “He’s very dedicated to the position and his very coachable. So I think both Sam and Adam will be very, very good for us. At this point in time, we plan on platooning both guys and see where it gets us.”
The Pioneers were once again one of the nation’s top defensive teams. They ranked tenth in the nation, allowing an average of 2.41 goals per game last season. The 99 total goals allowed were the second fewest of any WCHA team. Once their goaltending is solidified and with the return of an excellent defensive corps, Denver should be among the nation’s best defensive teams again this season.
Another area where the Pioneers were hit hard this off-season was on offense. Denver’s entire top line from last season is gone. Rhett Rakhshani (NYI) and Tyler Ruegsegger (PHO) graduated, while Joe Colborne opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Boston Bruins. In addition, the Pioneers also lost top defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. He, like Colborne, opted to forego the remainder of his eligibility to sign with the Ottawa Senators. Rakhshani, one of three Pioneers that were selected to the All-America West First Team, led the Pioneers with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 41 games last season. Ruegsegger and Colborne both finished with 41 points. Colborne with 22 goals and 19 assists in 39 games; and Ruegsegger with 16 goals and 25 assists in 41 games. Wiercioch, another All-America West First Team selection, led all Pioneers blue liners with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 39 games. The departed quartet comprised four of Denver’s top five scorers from last season and accounted for 45 percent of the team’s total points. So replacing those points will be crucial to the Pioneers success this season. Senior Anthony Maiani returns as Denver’s top scorer after posting 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists) in 37 games last season.
One newcomer that will be help fill the hole left by the departures is the immensely talented Beau Bennett. The Gardena, CA native is a first round (20th overall) selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is a dynamic and very creative player that excels on the power play.
“Beau is a very special player,” said Gwozdecky. “He’s extremely talented and has a desire to really improve and develop at DU. He’s got very, very soft hands. Beau’s got a rocket when he wants to shoot the puck, but he can also make some of the softest feather passes that you’ve ever seen too. He’s got a great feel for the offensive part of the game too. Beau is going to play a lot of minutes and I think he’ll be able to handle it.”
Michigan Tech University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0
Michigan Tech will look to get out of the WCHA basement when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Northern Michigan in the Superior Cup Tournament.
After being the WCHA’s perennial cellar dwellers the last two seasons, the Huskies could potentially move out of it this season. But in order for that to happen, a few issues need to be addressed first.
Defense was perhaps the most glaring weakness of Michigan Tech last season. The Huskies possessed the nation’s worst defensive team that allowed a whopping 4.11 goals per game. Equally as horrendous was their penalty-killing, which also ranked dead last in the nation, with an efficiency rating of 71.8 percent.
The good news coming into this season is that the backbone of the Huskies defense, their goaltending, will be their strongest position. Michigan Tech returns their solid tandem of sophomore Kevin Genoe and junior Josh Robinson. Despite his 4-18-1 record in 27 outings, Genoe was actually quite good last season and is poised to be even better this season. He posted a respectable .904 save percentage and a 3.55 goals against average. His counterpart Robinson posted 1-12-0 record in 16 appearances.
Another area that Michigan Tech could see an improvement in this season is their offensive production, despite the loss of three of their top six point-producers from last season. The Huskies ranked 55th in the nation last season with an offense that averaged just 2.06 goals per game. Furthermore, the 74 total goals scored were the fewest of any WCHA team.
Michigan Tech’s top two returning scorers are junior Brett Olson and sophomore defenseman Steven Seigo. Olson co-led the Huskies last season with 30 points (18 goals, 12 assists) in 32 games. The Superior, WI native has been one of Michigan Tech’s most consistent point-producers since arriving in Houghton two years ago and could continue that trend this season. Where Olson was been particularly dangerous last season was on the Huskies power play, where seven of his goals were scored. Seigo was one of the most impressive freshman defensemen coming out of the WCHA last season. He finished his rookie campaign with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists). He is also the lone returning player who appeared in all 36 games. Seigo, who has drawn some NHL interest, is an outstanding puck-moving defenseman blessed with great hands and skating ability.
One contributing factor to Michigan Tech’s demise last season was injuries. The Huskies had only three players on their roster last season that appeared in 36 games. If they can stay healthy, it will go a long ways to helping them battle their way up the WCHA standings this season.
University of Minnesota
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 19
Minnesota will be looking to get things back on track again when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting UMass.
The 2009-10 season proved to be a rather tumultuous one for the Golden Gophers. While having 20 NHL prospects on the team last season looked good on paper, it didn’t live up to expectations. This season, Minnesota is determined to remedy that.
The Golden Gophers lost eight players in the off-season. Forwards Tony Lucia (SJ), Mike Carman (COL) and Ryan Flynn (NSH), along with defensemen David Fischer (MON) and Brian Schack all graduated. Forward Josh Birkholz left for the WHL, while forward Jordan Schroeder and defenseman Nick Leddy opted to forego the remainder of their eligibility to sign with Vancouver and Chicago respectively.
Of the aforementioned players, Lucia, Schroeder and Leddy may be the most significant losses. Lucia and Schroeder co-led Minnesota with 28 points. Lucia amassed 11 goals, 17 assists playing in all 39 games. After a stellar 45-point rookie campaign, Schroeder’s production fell last season. He finished with nine goals and 19 assists in 37 games. Leddy finished third on the team in defenseman scoring with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 30 contests.
Despite losing eight key players, Minnesota will again be a talent-rich squad that has simply reloaded.
The best story coming into the season for the Golden Gophers is the return of redshirted senior Jay Barriball (SJ). The Prior Lake, MN native suffered a season-ending knee injury just five games into the 2009-10 season. His leadership and experience should also help to bring some renewed energy to the team as well.
The Golden Gophers comes into this season needing to address a few issues, most notably their point production. The team posted very un-Minnesota like offensive numbers last season. The Golden Gophers ranked 43rd in the nation with an offense that averaged just 2.72 goals per game. The 106 total goals scored were the third fewest in the WCHA. Only Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech posted fewer goals.
Two players that will be counted to help boost the Golden Gophers point totals are senior Mike Hoeffel (NJ) and newcomer Nick Bjugstad (FLA). Hoeffel is the top returning scorer from last season. The North Oaks, MN native finished third on the team with 24 points and led Minnesota with 14 goals in 34 games. One area where Hoeffel excelled last season was on the Golden Gophers special teams. Of his 14 goals, seven came on the power play and one came shorthanded. Hoeffel, along with Lucia were the only players from 2009-10 that posted ten or more goals.
Bjugstad, a first round (19th overall) selection of the Florida Panthers this past June, comes to Minnesota after being named the Mr. Hockey recipient as the top high school player in the state of Minnesota while at Blaine HS last season. The rugged power forward is noted for his smooth skating and big-time shot.
One position that will help determine how the Golden Gophers fare this season will be in goal. Senior Alex Kangas (ATL) returns as Minnesota’s go-to guy between the pipes. The Rochester, MN native posted a 16-15-1 record that included one shutout, along with a 2.61 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. While Kangas’ numbers were very good, he also struggled with some inconsistency last season. And if Kangas can regain that consistency he has shown in previous years, Minnesota could go quite far this season.
University of Minnesota-Duluth
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 7
Minnesota-Duluth will be looking to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 at Lake Superior State in the Superior Cup tournament.
The Bulldogs narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last season. But with the team returning almost intact, Minnesota-Duluth could find themselves back in it this season.
The Bulldogs lost only six players in the off-season. Forwards Jordan Fulton (CGY) and Drew Akins, along with defensemen Trent Palm and Chase Ryan all graduated. But their most notable losses were of forward Rob Bordson and goaltender Brady Hjelle. Bordson opted to forego his senior year to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. He capped an outstanding 2009-10 campaign finishing fourth on the team with 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 40 games. Hjelle left the team to return to USHL. It is unlikely that he will return to Minnesota-Duluth. Hjelle, who split time with returning junior Kenny Reiter, appeared in 19 games last season, posting a 7-5-1 record that included one shutout.
One of Minnesota-Duluth’s strengths in recent years has been their offense and it looks to be again this season. The Bulldogs ranked 20th in the nation in team offense, averaging 3.15 goals per game. Where the Bulldogs were particularly dangerous was on the power play, where they ranked third with a 23 percent efficiency rating.
Minnesota-Duluth returns their superb top-scoring trio of senior Justin Fontaine, and juniors Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly, all of whom have drawn some NHL interest after having attended the summer prospects camps of Minnesota, Chicago and Edmonton respectively. Jack Connolly, an All-WCHA First Team selection, led Minnesota-Duluth with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) playing in all 40 games. He is also a potential candidate for this season’s Hobey Baker Award. Fontaine, an All-WCHA Second Team selection, finished second on the team with 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) in 39 games. Mike Connolly rounds out the top three after posting 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games.
The Bulldogs also possessed a very good defense last season. And with the return of starting netminder Kenny Reiter, along with a very solid defensive corps, it is shaping up to be even better this season. Senior and team captain Mike Montgomery leads the Minnesota-Duluth defense. The Lino Lakes, MN native might be the best defenseman in the WCHA that no one is talking about. Although Montgomery isn’t likely to put up many points, he does play an excellent two-way game. He appeared in all 40 games last season, racking up 17 points (two goals, 15 assists).
One defenseman to keep an eye on this season is newcomer Justin Faulk. The South St. Paul, native was taken in the second round (37th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes this past June. Faulk is player noted for his tremendous puck-handling skills and his cannon-like shot.
Minnesota State University-Mankato
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2
Minnesota State-Mankato will look to move up the WCHA standings when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting St. Lawrence.
The Mavericks battled a bit with the injury bug last season, which was one reason why they finished tied for eighth with Alaska-Anchorage. But avoiding the injury bug won’t be the only issue that Minnesota State-Mankato will have to contend with coming into this season.
Nowhere were the Mavericks hit harder in the off-season than up front. Minnesota State-Mankato lost five of their top eight scorers. The most notable is prized recruit Tyler Pitlick, who bolted for the WHL. Pitlick, a second round (31st overall) selection of the Edmonton Oilers, led the Mavericks in rookie scoring with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 38 games last season. Compounding matters is the fact that top incoming forward Matt Leitner has been ruled academically ineligible for this season. Nevertheless, Minnesota State-Mankato will have a very good group that should be able to fill the holes left by their departed players.
Two returning players that will be relied upon to lead the team offensively this season are seniors Andrew Sackrison (STL) and returning top scorer Ben Youds. Sackrison battled some injuries last season that limited him to 21 games and five points (three goals, two assists). If he can stay healthy, he could become a significant point-producer for the Mavericks this season. Youds, one of the few rearguards in the nation to lead his team in scoring last season, is coming off of a stellar junior campaign that saw him post 26 points (three goals, 23 assists) playing in all 39 games last season.
Youds will also lead an outstanding group of predominantly young defenders this season. One defenseman to keep an eye on is senior Kurt Davis. Davis, like Youds, is a terrific skating offensive defenseman with nice hands. The Plymouth, MN native finished second in scoring among Mavericks defenders with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 38 games. Where Davis really excelled last season was on the power play where three of his five goals were scored. Both Davis and Youds have also gained some NHL interest as a result of their strong performances as well.
Another area of strength for Minnesota State-Mankato coming into this season is in goal. The Mavericks return their solid tandem of junior Austin Lee and sophomore Phil Cook. Lee appeared in 20 games last season, posting a 7-11-0 record with a respectable .907 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average. Cook appeared in 18 games, posting a record of 8-6-2 with one shutout, along with a .908 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average.
If Minnesota State-Mankato expects to move up the WCHA standings this season, they will have to generate more goal-scoring throughout their lineup. While the Mavericks averaged just under three goals per game as a team last season, they only had four players that posted ten or more goals. And three of them are gone. Senior team captain Rylan Galiardi is the lone returning player of the group. The Calgary, AB native posted 25 points, which included 11 goals in 38 games last season.
University of Nebraska-Omaha
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2
Nebraska-Omaha will look to shake things up as one of the newest members of the WCHA when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Clarkson in the Mutual of Omaha Stampede Tournament.
The Mavericks come into their inaugural season in the WCHA after a sixth-place finish in the CCHA last season.
One attribute that immediately jumps out about this season’s Mavericks team is their sizeable defensive corps. With the exception of senior Eric Olimb and junior Kyle Ensign, all are 6’1’’ or taller. Nebraska-Omaha’s imposing blueline will add to their already aggressive team style that should serve them well in the WCHA.
One defenseman to watch this season is sophomore Bryce Aneloski. The Pekin, Ill. native was a seventh round (196th overall) draft selection of the Ottawa Senators this past June. Aneloski is a transfer from Providence College that played in the USHL last season. He possesses nice hands and is an aggressive competitor who uses his size, reach and strength advantageously.
Nebraska-Omaha lost nine players in the off-season. The most notable were defenseman Eddie DelGrosso and forward John Kemp. DelGrosso, who has graduated, was another of the few rearguards who led their team in scoring last season. He posted 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) playing in all 42 games and capped the year with being named to the All-CCHA First Team. Kemp, who opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors, finished second on the team with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 37 games.
Despite the loss of DelGrosso and Kemp, Nebraska-Omaha should be quite good offensively this season. While the team doesn’t possess much of the elite offensive talent that many other WCHA teams do, one thing the Mavericks have done quite well in recent years is getting their scoring by committee. And that’s not likely to change much this season.
Two players that will among those leading Nebraska-Omaha’s offensive attack are senior Rich Purslow and junior Alex Hudson. Purslow is the Mavericks top returning scorer. He posted 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 41 games last season. Purslow is a forward blessed with great hands that has shown a knack for scoring timely goals. He has also attracted some NHL interest, having attended the New York Islanders prospect camp this summer as well. Hudson continues to blossom as one of the Mavericks most dynamic players. The Corona, CA native finished sixth on the team with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games last season.
Another key player that Nebraska-Omaha returns this season is sophomore starting netminder John Faulkner. The Sarnia, ONT native was solid between the Mavericks pipes last season, posting a record of 13-10-4 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average. With his goaltending partner Jeremie Dupont having graduated, Faulkner will get some competition from newcomer Mike Taffe and redshirted freshman Fredrik Bergman this season.
St. Cloud State University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 11
St. Cloud State will look to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament when they open their 2001-11 season on Oct. 8 versus RIT in the Mutual of Omaha Stampede tournament.
The Huskies are coming off a successful 2009-10 campaign that saw them reach the WCHA Final Five Championship game and get into the NCAA Tournament.
St. Cloud State graduated only five players. The most notable are last season’s co-leading scorer Ryan Lasch and top defenseman Garrett Raboin. Lasch led the Huskies with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) playing in all 43 games last season. He leaves St. Cloud State as one of the team’s most celebrated players. Among the new school (D-I) records that he set include career points (183) and assists (104). Raboin led all Huskies blueliners in scoring with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 40 games. Like Lasch, Raboin also leaves behind a celebrated career that includes tying the team’s (D-I) single-season records for power goals by a defenseman (8) two seasons ago.
While the loss of Lasch and Raboin will be felt, St. Cloud State will be very good this season, thanks to many returning core veterans and an excellent incoming freshman class.
“The big key for us right now is that we’ve got pretty good depth at all three positions, and I think that bodes well for us,” head coach Bob Motzko said in assessing his team. “We’ve got two outstanding goaltenders that will push each other even more this year. We’ve got a lot of depth at forward. It’ll take some time for our defensive corps to gel, but we like the people that we’ve got in all the spots.”
One area where the Huskies were particularly good last season was on offense. St. Cloud State sported the nation’s 17th-best offense that averaged 3.21 goals per game. This season, the team is shaping up to be just as good.
Leading St. Cloud State’s offensive charge this season is senior assistant captain Garrett Roe (LA). The Vienna, VA native is one of three Los Angeles Kings prospects on the Huskies roster this season. Roe, an All-WCHA Third Team selection, co-led the team with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 41 games last season. He also finished tied for second on the team with a plus-9. Where Roe proved to be invaluable to St. Cloud State was on face-offs, winning just over 53 percent of his draws.
Another veteran forward that the Huskies will be relying on this season is senior captain Aaron Marvin (CGY). The Warroad, MN native played in 39 games last season, posting 16 points (five goals, 11 assists). Marvin’s hard-nosed style has served St. Cloud State well, but a lack of discipline last season earned him two separate suspensions by the WCHA for hits to the head that resulted in concussions to Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion (DET) and a season-ending one to North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway.
Goaltending will be one of St. Cloud State’s strengths coming into this season. The stellar tandem of senior Dan Dunn (WSH) and sophomore Mike Lee (PHO) both return. Dunn appeared in 21 games, posting a record of 12-5-2. His .915 save percentage ranked tied for 20th in the nation. Lee appeared in 26 games, posting a record of 12-9-3 with two shutouts. His .917 save percentage ranked tied for 14th in the nation.
The Huskies also bring in an impressive freshman class this season. One player to watch is defenseman Kevin Gravel. The Kingsford, MI native was a fifth round (148th overall) selection of the Los Angeles Kings this past June. Gravel is a defensive defenseman with size that is noted for his ability to move with the puck.
“Kevin has the ability to step right into our lineup,” Motzko said of Gravel. “He’s a very good athlete, and has real good feet for a big guy. I think with Kevin, it’s just a matter of him getting some experience and gaining some strength. I think it’ll take a bit of time, but there’s no question that he’s got the ability to fight for time back there and anchor things for us.”
University of Wisconsin
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 9
Wisconsin will look to make a second consecutive trip to Frozen Four when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 versus Boston University in the Icebreaker Tournament in St. Louis.
Wisconsin’s wildly successful year came up just short of another National Championship when they fell to Boston College this past April. Taking that journey again this season will be more challenging with a predominantly young team.
In terms of numbers, no WCHA team lost more impact players than Wisconsin did this off-season. In all, the Badgers lost 12 players. Seven of them graduated, including the 2009-10 Hobey Baker Award recipient, Blake Geoffrion (NSH). The Brentwood, TN native played in 40 games last season, posting 50 points (28 goals, 22 assists). Geoffrion, one of two Badgers selected to the All-America West First Team, led the nation with 15 power play goals, while his 28 overall goals ranked third.
Four of the 12 were lost to early departures. Top scorer Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh both signed with the New York Rangers. Defenseman Cody Goloubef signed with Columbus and the nation’s top scoring defenseman Brendan Smith signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Stepan led Wisconsin with 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 41 games. His 42 assists tied for first in the nation as well. Smith led the nation in defenseman scoring with 52 points (15 goals, 37 assists) in 42 games. McDonagh finished with 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in 43 games. Goloubef round out the group with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 42 games.
The 12 departed players included seven of Wisconsin’s top eight scorers; three of the team’s top five defensemen, and a whopping 60 percent of the Badgers entire point production last season. So the greatest test this season will be in trying to replace it all.
Two returning players that Wisconsin will be relying on to replenish some of the scoring are sophomores Craig Smith (NSH) and defenseman Justin Schultz (ANA). Smith and Schultz are the top returning scorers after finishing fifth and ninth respectively on the team last season. Smith posted 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 41 games. Schultz quietly became one of the best young blueliners in the WCHA last season, posting 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) playing in all 43 games.
The strength of Wisconsin this season will be in goal. Seniors Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett (PHO) both return. The duo will be relied upon heavily to help bring some stability to the Badgers defense. Gudmandson enjoyed an excellent junior campaign, posting a 20-5-4 record that included two shutouts in 31 appearances. His .759 winning percentage ranked third in the nation, while his 2.34 goals against average ranked 13th. Bennett appeared in 14 games, posting a record of 8-6-0.
While this year’s incoming freshman class is quite good, it is not as deep as some of the recent Badgers freshman classes. Nevertheless, one newcomer to keep an eye on is Jason Clark. The Eden Prairie, MN native was taken in the third round (82nd overall) by the New York Islanders this past June. Clark is a smooth-skating power forward blessed with a terrific stick.